The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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48 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2021 BY EJ HOLLAND T o say linebacker recruiting has been a whirlwind this recruiting cycle would be an understatement. In the recruiting world, it is imper- ative for a prospect to have a strong relationship with his future position coach. The problem for Michigan is that up until recently, there has been no stability at linebackers on its coaching staff. Just last year, Michigan brought in Brian Jean-Mary to coach up the po- sition group. Jean-Mary was known as a plus recruiter under head coach Charlie Strong at the University of Texas and had closed with some highly touted prospects during his time on that staff. After a less-than-ideal season for the Wolverines, it appeared Jean- Mary would be retained despite Jim Harbaugh's staff overhaul. That is until rumors started to swirl about Michigan's pursuit of Florida line- backers coach Christian Robinson. With ties to new Michigan defen- sive coordinator Mike Macdonald, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Robinson would join the staff and Jean-Mary would be shown the door. After almost accepting the position in Ann Arbor, Robinson had a change of heart and opted to stay in Gainesville. Jean-Mary was then announced as part of Michigan's staff for the 2021 season. However, he began to inter- view for other jobs and eventually left for Tennessee. Keep in mind that during this whole ordeal, Michigan also parted ways with former defen- sive coordinator Don Brown, who was heavily involved in linebacker recruiting. With the Jean-Mary saga finally put to bed, Michigan moved new safeties coach George Helow down to linebacker. This change made a lot of sense considering Helow coached linebackers at his previous stop, Maryland, and actually played a big role in flipping Rivals100 linebacker Branden Jennings from Michigan during the early signing period in December. For Michigan, everything has come full circle with Helow now leading the group. But the uncertainty didn't come without repercussions. While all of this was going on, rival Notre Dame hired new defensive coordinator and ace recruiter Marcus Freeman, who led a strong push for U-M's top line- backer target, Joshua Burnham, the No. 141 overall prospect nationally according to Burnham, a standout at Traverse City (Mich.) Central, grew up in a family full of Michigan fans and was considered a lock to pledge to the Wolverines early in the process. In- stead, Burnham spurned his home- state program and committed to the Irish in mid-March. There is no way around it. Losing Burnham was a blow. Not only is he a talented in-state prospect, he also has the versatility and athleticism to be an impact player at any of the line- backer spots in U-M's new NFL-style defensive scheme under the afore- mentioned Macdonald. Still, Michigan is Michigan. The Wolverines have always excelled at recruiting the linebacker position, and that won't change under Helow's watch. Michigan is going to pursue the best of the best nationally, and with the Burnham sweepstakes com- ing to an end, the linebacker board is now starting to sort itself out. As Michigan looks for its first com- mitment at the position, a familiar name tops the wish list — Evanston (Ill.) Township's Sebastian Cheeks, the No. 109 overall prospect in the country per Jean-Mary offered Cheeks last year and immediately made him a top priority. The Wolverines were even an early frontrunner for the Chica- goland prospect before the question marks and poor season. Now, Notre Dame has emerged as the favorite in this race. But it's far from over. Cheeks plans to take official visits to both Michigan and Notre Dame this summer and will make his decision soon after. "They're rivals," Cheeks said. "I know they don't like each other. I'm just going to continue going through the recruiting process, keep getting to know these schools and keep growing relationships. That's all you can do." Despite being a Jean-Mary offer, both Helow and Macdonald have gone all in on Cheeks over the last several weeks, conducting virtual vis-   FOOTBALL RECRUITING Even After Missing Out On Top Initial Target, U-M Can Still Reel In Impact Linebackers Michigan's current No. 1 target in linebacker recruiting is Evanston (Ill.) High product Sebastian Cheeks, the country's No. 109 overall prospect per PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM

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